Ceremony honors Exeter paralympian
EXETER - In the middle of an average school day, an above-average student was recognized by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., for being an inspiration to so many others.
Paralympic athlete Victoria Arlen, a senior at Exeter High School, was commended for her dedication, hard work and spirit of character during a small ceremony attended by her parents and two brothers.
Shaheen presented Arlen and her family with a copy of the Congressional Record Statement titled "A Tribute to Victoria Arlen."
Arlen, 18, was diagnosed with transverse myelitis seven years ago, a neurological disorder that causes inflammation of a section of the spinal cord. The disorder took nearly five years of her life, at least two of which she spent in a vegetative state, and paralyzed her from the waist down.
As a young girl, Arlen had been active in sports, including swimming, and she says that when she learned about disabled sports a couple of years ago, it gave her back her life.
When one of her brothers threw her in the family pool in 2010, Arlen learned she could swim again, and began training.
She resumed competitive swimming at the age of 16 in October, 2011, and shortly thereafter qualified for the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, where she set a world record and won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle. She also earned silver medals in three other events.
"Victoria, New Hampshire is so proud of your achievements and is fortunate to have such a wonderful role model to inspire us all," Shaheen said. "
This spring, Arlen will complete another feat, graduating with her two brothers, Cameron and William, from Exeter High School on time after catching up on five years of missed schoolwork in three years.
In addition to finals and graduation events, Arlen is training for international competition in Montreal, Canada, in August.
Arlen is also working on obtaining her driver's license, though her mother, Jacqueline, enjoys driving her daughter to and from the pool each day.
"It is a nice time alone for us in the car. It's a bonding time," Jacqueline Arlen said.
And it is time she does not take for granted after losing her daughter for so many years to her illness.
"It's been quite a journey," Jacqueline Arlen said. "She's touching people and making a difference and that's what it's all about."
Victoria Arlen said she is grateful for the support she has received. "I have many teammates ... who get next to no support and recognition," Victoria Arlen said. "I feel blessed to be part of such an incredible state."